Friday, 27 May 2011

50* - The Art of Captaincy

An ex-Chairman writes...

“Captain of Cricket”. Those words take me back to a time when I first realised that the world wasn’t always fair. It was at a time when Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey were the choice for England, but I wasn’t for my school. Probably not surprising as every previous captain was also elected a prefect and that would have been a risk the school weren’t keen on. So instead, I took the role of elder statesman which allowed me to watch, sit back and criticise, something I’ve rather enjoyed in cricket ever since.

The world wasn’t fair for most would-be Captains in English Test cricket at that time anyway. Gentlemen versus Players, the final “Trial” for selection for your country, pitted the “Gentleman”, in other words amateurs rich enough to play cricket for “Fun”, and therefore potential Captains against the Professionals, the artisans who used different changing rooms and often different gates to reach the pitch and never became “Captains” of County or Country, but were paid. Perhaps the school should have paid me; on second thoughts…

Ever since, I have enjoyed watching and analysing why different people encourage a team to very different effect and who becomes a good or even a great Captain of Cricket.

Surely, you need someone to look up to – an Apollo-like figure, athletic, graceful, charismatic and charming, liked by everyone and envied by many? The sort of man one would follow “over the top” against even the fastest, nastiest bowler. Definitely he couldn’t be a bowler, with their muscles, effort and sweaty caps (have you ever umpired and held one of them? No, the cap...) Also bowlers are never the best judge of when to take a rest. He ought to be a good batsman but not necessarily a great batsman, and preferably not an opener as there’s always “business” to deal with during the break in innings. He has to be a great fielder leading by example; indeed leading from the front in everything.

This is where proper cricket differs from real life. In village cricket this last paragraph isn’t enough. The Captain has to buy the first round in the pub and be there at closing time – have long arms and deep pockets. While there on a Sunday evening he may have to rescue the fixture with the opposition, after the “Senior Pro” turned down a blatant LBW appeal, thereby winning the match for us. He has to have sons (or daughters) to fill 10th and 11th places at short notice on Sunday morning, and their school-friends have to be talented cricketers – even better, a daughter with a keen cricketer for a boyfriend, and a wife to make the teas far more than the others. Cunning as a fox and sneaky as a snake could be other attributes brought to the table. But is this all?

Our present captain wouldn’t recognise himself in many of these areas apart from having a delightful and talented family and being a very generous host. Being charitable, his 49 ball nought was the highlight of his batting; his fielding, perhaps, could do with more hands and less legs;; his figure is slightly more portly than portable; and as for athletic and graceful? Hmmm... Cunning and sneaky start to ring bells. Keen? Madly so! But that still isn’t it.

Sitting and watching rather than challenging Father Time allows me to watch and analyse and even criticise – yes, even me! How often would I have moved midwicket a bit deeper or dissolved the slip cordon (this is village cricket!), when something happens which really shouldn’t. A catch taken, a run-out by the team “rabbit” or the last three opposition wickets falling like a pack of cards occurs too often to be chance. How often have I put my list of my fielding placements or bowling changes that I would have made back in my pocket as I realise my mistake? On top of this everyone is encouraged to have a go, if you don’t bowl, you do get a bat and if you drop a catch or score a nought, there’s a comforting word, whatever he may think deep down. As far as batting is concerned, he swears that all the batsmen bat to his plan. I’m a bit dubious but our recent century was apparently scored with a few words in the changing room at tea – again “business”. Who am I to doubt? He defies all the rules of captaincy but he’s really good at it – really good, and it’s me saying that.

Why am I writing this little homily? Well, Charlie has just achieved his 50th Birthday, on Friday the 13th, no less. He deserves congratulations for his birthday and it’s a good time to reflect on what he has achieved for us. Perhaps the special date has something to do with his success. He certainly doesn’t fulfil any formula that I understand, but it certainly works. I feel a bit like the audience member at a meeting of the Magic Circle. “How does he do it?” The point is, it doesn’t matter how or even why. The point is Charlie Samuels is a really good Captain of Cricket – a prefect, however? No.

And back to that Captain of Cricket at school? He certainly made a better prefect than me and he was a nice chap. I still think I would have done a better job. I think he was a bit too nice; you need a bit of nasty there as well. Yes, even Charlie can do that, but usually with a smile on his face. A “gentleman” then, but a bit of a “player” too.

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